How should we structure a ministry of spiritual formation for the local church? That is the big question for the leader of spiritual formation. This document is a preliminary presentation of my basic theology of spiritual formation and suggests some key pathways to pursue this task.
Relationship and Reflection
There are two key components to spiritual formation: relationship and reflection.
God is the relationship of the three persons of the Trinity and is the ground of being from which all things spring forth in interdependent relationships. Theologians call this relationality. It is the quality of being formed by and in relationships (relational + quality = relationality).
In other words, having relationships is not an option. It is life itself. It is not a question of if you have a relationship with yourself, others, nature, and God. It is a question of the quality of those relationships that we must ask.
A primary task for the leader of spiritual formation in the local congregation is to cultivate spaces in which the Holy Spirit can deepen the roots of God’s love and grow the fruit of the Spirit in each individual’s relationships with him or herself, his or her friends and family, the environment, and with God. The continual question we must ask is: How are people getting connected to each other for the purpose of mutual encouragement in spiritual formation?
While relationships are vital to spiritual formation, as mentioned above, they do not automatically promote spiritual health and growth. Some relationships often hinder spiritual growth as much as foster it. Therefore, spiritual formation requires individuals to stop the frenetic pace of life and think critically—to reflect—about the actions, attitudes, and relationships that define their lives.
This is why the 7 Habits of Spiritual Formation are essential to spiritual growth. The habits are disciplines that equip us to reflect and notice what God is doing in and with the world. Reflective action is not easy or natural for most people. It will often meet resistance from the typical church-attender. Yet, like a healthy diet and exercise is essential to the body, reflective action through the spiritual habits is essential to spiritual formation.
Spaces and Pathways
There are two additional terms and ideas that frame my understanding of spiritual formation: spaces and pathways. The leader of spiritual formation must cultivate spaces in which people can connect in relationship and cultivate pathways of education that are easy for people to find and follow.
It is not always easy for individuals who attend a public worship service to find safe and healthy relationships within the congregation. The leader of spiritual formation must be aware of the organic demographic formations in the congregation and seek ways to connect key leaders within those demographics to create spaces in which others may find fruitful connections in relationship.
These relational spaces can take many forms. They may form around place in life (youth, young adults, married couples, singles, retired adults, etc.); gender (men, women, LGBT, etc.); affinity (gardening, fitness, books, art, sports, etc.); or, areas of service (quilters, ushers, musicians, habitat for humanity, missions, etc.). Each local congregation will have a unique blend of relational spaces.
The leader of spiritual formation must not only be concerned with the relational spaces in which people connect, but also about the physical spaces in which those connections take place. Will people only meet in the church building? Will people be empowered to meet in their homes, by the soccer field, in a bar, or online? The diversity of lifestyle and multiple options that are available today create an ideal climate for creativity and innovation in regard to the spaces of spiritual formation.
Getting people connected in relationships is vital, but if the people don’t know what to do once they get there, it will be less than effective. The leader of spiritual formation must cultivate clearly marked pathways that will (1) lead people to the relational spaces, and (2) mark out a trail of education that will equip the individuals and groups to grow in faith and practice.
Below are critical pathways for the church. We must think of these pathways in terms of one core curriculum with multiple delivery methods. It is crucial in our society that people are allowed the freedom to choose the method in which they engage the core curriculum so that they can follow the pathway within their own spaces.
One Core Curriculum
Core Areas of Study
||Individual Book Studies|
||Deeper study of theological topics|
||Deeper experiences with the practices|
||Specific ministry orientation/training||Ongoing training and apprenticeship|
Multiple Delivery Methods
The ultimate goal is that every course listed above would be available in all of the following methods.
- Traditional Classroom (series of weekly meetings in a specific physical space)
- Sunday Evenings @ Grace
- Sunday morning
- A Monday or Tuesday night Adult Training Center?
- A Wednesday Night Family Worship and/or small group time?
- One-time session, e.g. Bible Mania, Financial Planning workshop, Earth Day Event, etc.
- Small Group
- Online Course (for individual and or group use)
 These are the findings from my research in Deep in the Burbs. http://www.deepintheburbs.com/research-findings-2/ (accessed July 31, 2015)